While Kallie Franz herds the passengers to a spot next to the road, the stewardess tries to open the door to the cockpit. She had spoken to the passenger in seat 26 E, but he stared at her in an absent, blank manner, saying something about …have you any wool? She left him there, knowing Captain Mokoena is a higher priority right now.
The door gives way unexpectedly and she stumbles into the cockpit. For a moment she doesn’t understand – the area seems to be filled with grass and twigs. Then she sees the arm of Captain Mokoena protruding from the mess, hanging down at an unnatural angle, blood dripping from the fingertips.
Digging frantically, she throws as much of the communal weavers’ nest as she can through the broken windshield to get to the pilot. She doesn’t hear the cheer of the passengers when the first vehicles arrive at the scene of the crash; her attention is focussed on the brave man who saved the lives of his passengers. When at last she cleared most of the stuff, she stands back aghast.
Captain Mokoena is pinned to his seat by the broken-off branch. It seems as if a his chest is being crushed by the heavy piece of wood: his wide open eyes pleading while he’s obviously fighting to breathe. She tries pushing, pulling, shoving in the confined space of the cockpit, but doesn’t manage anything. Mokoena is fading fast as his efforts to breathe diminish and fade. He’s suffocating right there, in front of her, and she can’t do anything about it.
Suddenly a big man is at her side.
“Get out,” he says in a soft, commanding voice.
He, too, tries to lift the branch that is forcing the life out of Captain Mokoena – but fails. He now moves to the back of the chair. Bulging the muscles of his massive shoulders, he gets a grip on the backrest of the seat. Then, with almost nonchalant ease, he breaks the the back of the chair – snaps it clean off where it joins the seat – setting Captain Mokoena free.
Later, the investigators will question this. It is impossible, they’ll say, to break a pilot’s chair. Can’t be done – especially not with bare hands. But Vetfaan did…and both the stewardess and captain will testify to this truth.
Vetfaan drags the captain – now breathing but still bleeding from the abrasions on his chest – to the outside. Kallie Franz rushes over to help as the speeding vehicle from Grootdrink slews to a halt.
“Vetfaan!” Gertruida’s shout carries with it a mixture of relief and anxiety. She rushes over to where they are kneeling next to the pilot. The stewardess has found a first-aid kit and they are working on his wounds.
“He’s in shock,” Gertruida says, “he needs a drip.” When Vetfaan looks up with a question in his eyes, she continues. “He needs intravenous fluids. An infusion. He’s lost blood.”
The first-aid kit is comprehensive, with everything needed for an emergency during the flight. The stewardess produces a vaculitre of Saline and the infusion set needed to set up the drip.
“Where’s Doc? He must help us here, dammit!” Gertruida glances around, looking for the familiar face. When she doesn’t find him, she sighs, takes the needle and slips it into the vein. She doesn’t explain – during her time with the intelligence services, the training had been exhaustive and included medical emergencies.
With the infusion running smoothly, she repeats her question.
“If…if he’s not out here, he must be the passenger in seat 26 E. He doesn’t want to get out. He’s just sitting there.” The stewardess spreads her arms wide, eyes filled with sympathy and sorrow. “I tried. I really tried.”
Inside the cabin, Getruida approaches the passenger in seat 26 E carefully. Doc sits exactly the way the stewardess described the situation: hugging himself and reciting rhymes. He’s busy with Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall…
“Doc?” He doesn’t respond, even when she repeats the greeting quite a bit louder.
“All the kings horses…”
“Snap out of it, will you! Get a grip!”
“And all the king’s men…”
“Oh come on! You can’t do this to me! Come on, Doc, wake up!” She’s pleading now.
“Couldn’t put Humty together again…”
Gertruida tries to shake him, but he resists, starting with Little Jack Horner…
Crying softly, Gertruida leaves the plane once more, to look for the stewardess. Doc should be sedated.
The search-and-rescue teams reacted with uncommon efficiency. Following Gertruida’s phone call, the first helicopter arrives a mere ten minutes later. Ambulances from Upington arrive, followed by Jacob Rooi’s taxi – in the hope of picking up a few fares. Pretty soon the scene is awash with people scurrying to and fro, treating cuts and bruises and getting the injured into the ambulances.
Boggel – ever the barman – has set up a table and is dishing out Cactus Jack to everybody in need of some post-traumatic sustenance.
“Do you mean to say the captain saved everybody?” It’s hard to say if the seasoned paramedic is pleased, surprised or disappointed. “A crash like this…”
By now Mokoena is wide awake and manages a weak smile. “It was luck. And God, of course. I don’t know how the plane managed it. Truly.”
“But what went wrong?” Sersant Dreyer – so far the only policeman on site – has walked around the wreck, trying to figure it out.
“The systems cut out – one after the other. I don’t understand it. It’s impossible for so many failures to occur at once. I think the plane was sabotaged.” With a shake of his head, Mokoena looks up at Dreyer. “Fortunately, we didn’t crash. Not like that. And the plane didn’t burn. The investigators will find something, I’m sure.”
“Does anyone know of any reason why somebody would have wanted to bring this plane down?” Sersant Dreyer addresses the few people still at the gathering point. “Anybody? Or dd anybody see anything suspicious?”
He gets no response for a while.
“Well. there was a lady at the airport.” Gertruida’s uncertainty is abundantly clear. “I…well. I thought she acted strangely. I don’t know. Just had a feeling.”
“What did she look like, Gertruida? What did she do?”
“To tell the truth, she looked like Cruella de Vil, you know, that Disney character? She…”
“That’s my wife!” The shout interrupts Gertruida’s hesitant explanation. “She…she could have done it! She and that damned mechanic….”
Sersant scribbles down the details before radioing the information to his headquarters in Upington. Halfway through, two paramedics pass by with a mumbling man on a stretcher, singing This old man, he played one…
As they load the demented man – he played three, he played nick-nack on his knee – into the ambulance, another vehicle roars up to stop nearby.
“You scoundrel! You bastard! You should have been dead! Dead! You hear me?”
It’s Cruella, brandishing a short-barrelled .38 Special.